New Zealand has added another tool to the toolbox to fight Covid-19, being one of the first countries in the world to sign an advanced purchase agreement for a new Covid-19 treatment pill.
Molnupiravir is an oral antiviral treatment and early trials have shown it greatly reduces hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the agreement secures an initial supply of 60,000 courses of molnupiravir.
She said it's important to have medicines to "help those who pick up the virus to avoid having to go to hospital".
While Ardern continues to use a stamp-it-out strategy, she said this purchase is not an assumption.
"This purchase of 60,000 courses is based on the same population basis as the likes of Australia and Singapore, and is not an assumption about the level of Covid we may have in the future."
Pharmac has negotiated an advanced purchase agreement and New Zealand will receive molnupiravir once it is assessed and approved by Medsafe.
Drugmaker Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said early results showed patients who received molnupiravir within five days of detecting Covid symptoms had about half the rate of hospitalisation and death as those who received a dummy pill.
The study tracked 775 adults with mild-to-moderate Covid-19 who were considered high risk for severe diseases because of health problems such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease. The results have not been reviewed by outside experts, the usual procedure for vetting new medical research.
Among the patients taking molnupiravir, 7.3 per cent were either hospitalised or died at the end of 30 days, compared with 14.1 per cent of those getting the dummy pill. After that time period, there were no deaths among those who received the drug, compared with eight in the placebo group, according to Merck.
Molnupiravir will be able to treat people with mild to moderate Covid-19, but Ardern is still asking all New Zealanders to get vaccinated.
"This purchase ensures that we have molnupiravir to treat those with mild to moderate Covid-19 but I ask all New Zealanders to get vaccinated as the best protection from the virus so we can regain our way of life with as few restrictions as possible," she said.